ARM goes 64-bit with its new ARMv8 chip architecture

ARM's 64-bit ARMv8 could fuel competition with Intel in the PC and server markets

ARM has introduced its first 64-bit microprocessor architecture, ARMv8, which should enable wider use of ARM chips in servers and other enterprise equipment and turn up the competitive heat on Intel.

ARMv8 adds 64-bit addressing capabilities, an improvement over the current ARMv7-A architecture, which is capable of up to 40-bit addressing. The architecture puts ARM into more direct competition with Intel and its 64-bit Xeon processors.

The new architecture will take time to appear, however. ARM expects to release its first ARMv8 processor designs next year, with prototype consumer and enterprise systems not expected until about 2014, ARM said.

"This is the beginning of quite a long road to 64-bit products," ARM CTO Mike Muller said in a speech at ARM TechCon Thursday, where the new design was announced.

The ARMv8 processor architecture will offer backwards compatibility and migration for existing software, ARM said.

Most of today's PC and server operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OS, are 64-bit. With 64-bit, computers can address larger amounts of storage and memory, which is especially beneficial for data-intensive applications.

ARM licenses processor architectures and designs to mobile chip companies such as Nvidia, Samsung, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. ARM processors are used in most smartphones and tablets today, but the company has virtually no presence in the server and PC markets, which are dominated by Intel with its x86 processors.

The new ARM architecture will be implemented in chips ranging from tiny sensors to large-scale infrastructure equipment, ARM said. It will bring "energy-efficient 64-bit computing" to high-end servers, ARM said.

Microsoft has said 64-bit applications also run faster than 32-bit applications, and ARM's new architecture could make future chips with ARM processors capable of running 64-bit Windows applications. Microsoft's Windows 8 will work on ARM and x86 processors, and devices such as tablets have been demonstrated running on ARM's 32-bit processors.

The lack of 64-bit capabilities was considered a drawback in ARM's efforts to enter the PC and server markets, as many applications are now 64-bit. ARM previously said it would address 64-bit only when necessary, saying it would not sacrifice power consumption to bring in more performance.

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